The Cosmic Tourist – Brian May, Patrick Moore, Chris Lintott ***
If I am honest, this book combines two of my least favourite approaches to writing a popular science book – celebrity authors and list books that have (in this case) 100 short entries around a particular theme. But in part because of the rather clever format (and also because, as scientific celebrity authors go, the late Sir Patrick Moore had a lot going for him), this particular example bucks the trend and works rather well.
The conceit is simple – our three voyagers, a rock musician (who admittedly has a doctorate in astrophysics, though this doesn’t necessarily make him a good science writer), a TV astronomer and an academic voyage through the universe, visiting the 100 must-see sights.
Just over half the topics are in the solar system, with the rest given over to the usual stunning Hubble images and the like. In reality, the ‘tourist’ model wears a little thin sometimes, and it does just become a collection of 100 interesting astronomical articles – so, for instance, the last entry is on the cosmic microwave background, not exactly something our intrepid explorers can visit on the spaceship pictured on the book’s cover. But some of the other entries, particularly those based in the solar system, really do give the sense of a visit guide, and so get the extra novelty of the format.
It is without doubt a good, well illustrated guide. There are better end-to-end reading books to get a real introduction to astronomy or the universe (including some of Patrick Moore’s own), but the novelty of the approach could bring in some additional readers, which is great, and I think this would make an ideal gift for a teenager who is showing the first signs of an interest in astronomy, or for an older reader who enjoys a little armchair exploring, but has tired of earthbound destinations. A bit of fun.